Wednesday, December 24, 2008. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces more deaths, Nouri al-Maliki makes a visit, and more.
Today the US military announced: "CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- Three Multi-National Division -- Center Soldiers were killed in a vehicle accident in southern Iraq Dec. 24." The announcement brings the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war to 4216. The total for the month thus far is 9. As of last Friday, the press was gearing for their 'astoundingly low number of deaths in December' pieces to run at the start of January. While 9 is still low (although, cautionary note, the month is not over yet) it is not the 2 that, until December 20th, the count remained at for the entire month.
Tomorrow many people around the world will celebrate Christmas. Joe Sterling (CNN) notes the difficulties facing Iraqi Christians. He quotes Chaldean Federation of America's Joseph Kassab stating, "We are heading for a demise. It's getting to the point where it might be an ethnic cleansing in the future." Sterling also speaks with US House Rep Anna Eshoo who is "of Assyrian and Armenian ancestry" stating, "I think the [Iraqi[ Christians are caught in the middle of a horrible situation" and uses the term "religious cleansing" to describe what's been taking place in Iraq as the number of Christians have "fallen from as many as 1.4 million in 2003 to between 500,000 and 700,000 more recently, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom." The report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom was noted in the December 19th snapshot and we'll highlight this section of the commission's report:
Nineveh governorate, however, especially in and around Mosul, remains one of the most dangerous and unstable parts of Iraq. Insurgent and extremist activity continues to be a significant problem there, and control of the ethnically and religiously mixed area is disputed between the KRG and the central Iraqi government. While violence overall in Iraq decreased in 2007 and 2008, the Mosul area remains what U.S. and Iraqi officials call the insurgents' and extremists' last urban stronghold, with continuing high levels of violence.D Increased security operations by U.S. and Iraqi forces have led to some decrease in the violence in and around Mosul, but the area remains very dangerous, as evidenced by the October attacks on Christian residents, which killed at least 14 Christians and spurred the flight of 13,000 from Mosul to surrounding areas. According to the September 2008 U.S. Department of Defense report to Congress, "[d]uring the past few years, Mosul has been a strategic stronghold for [al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)], which also needs Mosul for its facilitation of foreign fighters. The current sustained security posture, however, continues to keep AQI off balance and unable to effectively receive support from internal or external sources, though AQI remains lethal and dangerous."D According to the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction, from April 1 to July 1, 2008, there were 1,041 reported attacks in Nineveh governorate and from July 1 to September 30, 2008, there were 924 attacks, still a significant number.
This situation has been exacerbated by Arab-Kurdish tensions over control of Mosul and other disputed areas in Nineveh governorate. The dispute stems from Kurdish claims and efforts to annex territories-including parts of the governorates of Kirkuk (Tamim), Nineveh, Salah al-Din, Diyala, and Waset-into the KRG, on the basis of the belief that these areas historically belong to Kurdistan. During the Saddam Hussein era, Kurds and other non-Arabs were expelled from these areas under his policy of "Arabization." Since 2003, Kurdish peshmerga and political parties have moved into these territories, effectively establishing de facto control over many of the contested areas. Key to integrating the contested areas into Kurdistan is Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, which calls for a census and referendum in the territories to determine their control. In this context, military or financial efforts undertaken by either Kurdish officials or Arab officials (whether in Baghdad or local) is seen by the other group as an effort to expand control over the disputed areas, leading to political disputes and deadlock.
Angus McDowall (Telegraph of London) reported earlier this week that some Iraqi Christians from Mosul had fled to the monastery Mar Matti. "Their homes raided, their priests attacked and their relatives murdered, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians have become the latest victims of violence in the city, once the most cosmopolitan in Iraq." Jalal Mansour was quoted stating, "First they came against the Kurds, then against the Yazidis and now they have come for the Christians. My uncle, an old man, was killed just because of his faith." And Andrew Pierce (Telegraph of London) reports, "Rt Rev Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich, accused Britain and America of 'religious illiteracy' about the fallout from the Allied occupation. He said it was 'tragic' that two western powers with a strong Christian tradition had contributed to the eclipse of one of the longest surviving churches in the world. The war in Iraq, he said, had led to the brutal persecution of Christians." Meanwhile AKI speaks with Iraqi MP Younadim Kana who is "the leader of the Iraqi Christians Parliamentary group 'al-Raifidein'" and states, "This year we will be able to go to church on Christmas eve without fear. From a security point of view, we live -- without a doubt -- in an improved security situation compared to previous years, when we witnessed violence and attacks against various sectors of Iraqi society." Provincial elections are currently scheduled for January 31st. UPI reports that Iraq's Christian community is running for seats in the elections in Baghdad, Ninawa and Basra while adding, "Minority Christian groups have a sizable population in the northern regions of Iraq, though elecitons there are postponed because of territorial disputes."
In diplomacy news, Nouri al-Maliki has followed the lead of Iraq's Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, who visited Turkey Saturday and Jalal Talabani, Iraq's president, who visited Turkey yesterday. AP reports that he met with Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan today. The meeting did not build on what had come in the two visits prior. Hurriyet notes that "the Iraqi leader makes no mention of how the PKK problem that casts a shadow on bilateral relations could be resolved." It's an issue not only because the PKK -- labeled a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union, the US and many others -- continues to have clashes with the Turkish military but also because al-Hashemik and Talabani commented on the issue -- in fact, Talabani's willingness to raise the issue of the PKK was especially well received because he is a Kurd and the PKK has set up in the northern region -- the Kurdish region -- of Iraq. al-Maliki's refusal to address the topic would be alarming to many in Turkey on its own but coming after Talabani appeared open to discussions on the issue and strong in his stance that the northern region of Iraq will not be a safe haven for people to launch attacks on Turkey from, al-Maliki again looks weak and ineffective and does so on the international stage. And on the day when Turkey loses three soliders. Selcuk Gokoluk and Michael Roddy (Reuters) report that three members of the Turkish military were attacked by the PKK on the border between northern Iraq and Turkey. This comes as Waleed Ibrahim, Aseel Kami and Missy Ryan (Reuters) report that the Sunni Accordance Front has lost 1/25 of its members in the Parliament today due to a walk out and Khalaf al-Ilayan (Iraqi National Dialogue Council) declared, "Due to the Accordance Front's failure to achieve its mission and the Islamic Party's unilateral actions, we declare ... the Accordance Front has been dissolved." As new alliances are formed in the near future, it could effect al-Maliki's standing and, in fact, whether or not he remains prime minister.
As the year winds down, Zaineb Naji (Baghdad Life, Wall St. Journal) notes, "Hassan Baghdadi, a reporter for Ishtar satellite channel, said whatever happens to Mr. Zeidi, his actions made him the biggest news story of 2008. 'In Iraq, this story was the most important event of the year, bigger than the world financial crisis or anything else,' he said." John Ross (CounterPunch) observes:
Curiously, while Iraqis of all denominations rallied to the reporter's defense, the Baghdad press pack was unimpressed by al-Zaidi's shoe scoop. Indeed, one Iraqi journalist wrestled the al-Baghdadia correspondent to the floor while Maliki's goons beat on him, breaking his hand and fracturing two of his ribs. The Prime Minister, who apparently fancies himself a press critic, condemned the shoe toss as a "savage act which is unrelated to journalism in any way." Others in the Iraqi journalism community dissed al-Zaidi's performance as "unprofessional."
Even al-Jazeera, the powerful Qatar-based TV titan, was unusually standoffish in its reportage of the celebrated incident, which the powerful Arab network seemed to suggest, reflected poorly on the integrity of "responsible" Arab media. The New York Times, a paragon of corporate journalism, looked down its nose at the great shoe fling with its usual snottiness, disdaining Muntadhar al-Zaidi's credentials as a bona fide journalist and dismissing his activism as folkloric. Reporter Timothy Williams expressed surprise that the war in Iraq was "still unpopular."
And as the year winds down, Nouri al-Maliki's supposed to be overseeing greater Iraqi control of security. However, not unlike the myth of his 'leadership' in the February assault on Basra, al-Maliki's not really done the job. Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) reports that the US' top commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, explains that the Iraqi committees that are supposed to be overseeing the new security responsibilities are still not in place. Parker also quotes the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Anthony Cordesman who states, "Even if all the committees are in place, Iraqi politics could change any agreement or all of these procedures with no warning. If you have one really drastic incident that catalyzes Iraqi politics, suddenly all of these agreements could lead to a new set of Iraqi demands." Andrea Stone (USA Today) quotes Odierno explaining that, "We're still working our way through" on how US service members will be classified -- which will be called "combat" soldiers and which won't and how they'll determine on and off duty. Stone reminds the treaty masquerading as a Status Of Forces Agreement makes the meanings very improtant. We'll come back to that but on the topic of readyness, Elizabeth Palmer (CBS News) assesses Iraqi readyness and finds: "It's not yet perfect. Some of the Iraqi gunmen look ill-equipped next to their American counterparts." Palmer goes on to find hope in a mission where Iraqis brief the US. Back to the treaty and its 'meaning,' Alan Chvotkin ("who works on behalf of contractors") tells AP's Mike Baker: "The immunity question --- the largest question being talked about -- is not addressed in the ... agreement. The implication is there is none, but there's some hedging on that question. As of right now, there's still some ambiguity. And smart people disagree about it."
Today a hearing was set to start in Iraq and it two of the men who allegedly killed Margaret Hassan in 2004 were to stand trial. As David Brown and Francis Elliott (Times of London) reported, Hassan's family members are accusing "British diplomats of refusing to help them to confront alleged members of the Iraqi gang that kidnapped her." Ali Lutfi Jassar al-Rawi goes on trial tomorrow with another man and Hassan's family have requested that a representative from England's Embassy be at the trial in attendance but they have been informed the Embassy considers it "too dangerous". The Belfast Telegraph carries a statement from Hassan's siblings Deidre, Geraldine, Kathryn and Michael Fitzsimons:
Since Margaret's death we have spent the last four years trying to find her remains. We have sought justice and truth, and have never given up. We want to bring her home and give her a Christian burial with the respect she deserves. This was a promise made to her by her husband (Tahseen Ali Hassan), and together with our family, he has never given up hope of fulfiling that promise.
[. . .]
One of these men was trying to blackmail the British Government and our family in exchange for the return of Margaret's remains.
He demanded money from us, and a safe haven from the British Government in the UK for his family.
[. . .]
We have begged them to send an Embassy official to the trial to represent our sister Margaret. They feel unable to do so because of the security situation. We do not understand this.
[. . .]
Mr Brown said just this week that the British Government has achieved all its goals and the security situation in Iraq is much improved.
To date, only one person has been convicted in connection with the kidnapping and slaughter of Margaret Hassan. In June 2006, Sabrina Tavernise (New York Times) reported on the sentencing of Mustafa Muhammad Salman al-Jibouri who "held Ms. Hassan's purse after she was abducted, though he said he did not know whose it was at first." Meanwhile Jimmy Leach (Independent of London) reviews the top ten articles for his papers this year and notes: "Robert Fisk's piece on The tragic last moments of Margaret Hassan caused more disquiet, not least to Mr Fisk who knew Margaret Hassan. It is a truly harrowing piece, and there was some discussion about whether it should be run, but it is a remarkable insight into a horrifying situation." Click here to read Robert Fisk' column.
In the little reported violence today . . .
Hussein Kadhim (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing that left six police officers wounded while another left two people left wounded.
Meanwhile in the US, president-elect Barack Obama continues to see criticism over his decision to embrace homophobia. Kevin Gosztola (World Can't Wait) offers:
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, right?
One would never have thought that we were electing Don Corleone to the presidency in November, but more and more individuals from the left seem to be rationalizing Obama with logic that one might find in the storyline of a Mario Puzo story.
Huffington Post had pieces of writing that clearly acquiesced to the decision Obama made.
Lee Stranahan encouraged people to "embrace what you have in common with Rick Warren."
"Like my comrades, I think Warren is dead wrong on same sex marriage. But the reality is that at the end of 2008, a majority of voters in California agreed with him. A majority of Americans agree with Warren about same sex marriage and many more states have made marriage equality unconstitutional than have ratified it…
" … If you are mad about Rick Warren, I'm not attacking you. I understand your anger and I'm not saying it's not justified. But it's all right to let your anger go, too. It doesn't mean surrender; it doesn't mean giving up the struggle for equality.
"It means doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. It means winning, right now - because the fight against hate starts whenever you want it, in your own heart. You can win a battle right now by not hating."
The editorial is loaded from beginning to end with wishful thinking.
So what if a "majority" agree with Pastor Warren's hateful positions toward the LGBT community? What about it being necessary to take a moral position that does not promote hatred of the LGBT community or blame members of the LGBT community for divisions over what marriage is and isn't in this country?
And, why should we be in favor of legitimizing Pastor Warren?
It's one thing for Pastor Warren to invite Obama. He might get more people to join his congregation, which means more book sales and more money for his religious ventures in American capitalism. But, Obama's invitation signals that his election meant Americans wanted people like Pastor Warren to be involved in Obama's presidency.
Allowing Pastor Warren to be up there legitimizes words and judgment like this:
"The issue to me, I'm not opposed to that as much as I'm opposed to redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage."
This Rick Santorum-gay-marriage-is-going-to-lead-to-man-on-dog-sex kind of thinking is primitive and ignorant and deserves no place in American society. It deserves no place in American politics.
The national Green Party issues the following statement this week:
WASHINGTON, DC -- Green Party activists challenged gay voters and advocates of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights to protest President-elect Barack Obama's invitation to Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the inaugural invocation.
"Unless we make our anger known now, Mr. Obama will continue to betray gay people," said Starlene Rankin, co-chair of the party's Lavender Green Caucus (http://www.lavendergreens.us). "Barack Obama's claim to be a 'fierce advocate for equality' is not credible when he chooses a pastor notorious for his ill-informed and slanderous opinions about homosexuality and vigorous support for Proposition 8."
"The invitation signals that Mr. Obama may repeat the Clinton approach to gay rights. President Clinton, taking gay votes for granted, signed the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act into law and authorized the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' military policy. We've had generations of gay rights advocates and other progressives insisting that we need to elect Democrats, then we'll push them towards pro-gay agenda. Instead, gay people have remained second-class citizens in the Democratic Party and told to hush up when they're politically inconvenient. For those tired of bipartisan retreats from promises of human rights and justice, the Green Party remains the party of real change in America," added Ms. Rankin.
The Green Party's national platform asserts that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans deserve all the rights, including marriage and the ability to raise a family, that all other Americans enjoy (http://www.gp.org/platform/2004/socjustice.html#999082). Greens strongly opposed Proposition 8, which outlawed same-sex marriage in California.
Mr. Obama has said he opposed the passage of Propositon 8, but he also opposes full same-sex marriage rights, a position inconsistent with support for full and equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
Pastor Warren's public statements have revealed profound ignorance and bigotry on sexuality and on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in particular. Promoting passage of Proposition 8 in California, he has said that "in the hierarchy of evil... homosexuality is not the worst sin," an admission that he believes gay people are evil because they are gay.
He has said that allowing same-sex marriage is like allowing "a brother and sister be together and call that marriage" and added that he is "opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage," comparing same-sex marriage and homosexuality to incestuous relationships and pedophilia, which are crimes. Pastor Warren has also said that homosexuality is "not the natural way.... Certain body parts are meant to fit together," but has not called for the invalidation of heterosexual marriages in which the spouses have engaged in sex outside of vaginal sexual intercourse.
Greens noted that Barack Obama's choice of Rev. Warren for the inaugural prayer coincides with a declaration introduced by 66 countries in the UN calling for universal decriminalization of homosexuality (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7791063.stm). The US is the only major western nation that has refused to sign on, even though a Supreme Court decision has invalidated US laws against sodomy.
"Will the new Obama Administration maintain Bush policy and decline to have the US sign the declaration against criminalization of gay people?" asked Tim Casebolt, secretary of the Lavender Green Caucus.
"Barack Obama has asked Robert Gates to stay on as Secretary of Defense. Mr. Gates is not only likely to continue the Bush Administration's military aggression around the world, but also the targeting of gay members of the armed forces for investigation, harassment, and discharge. The Obama Cabinet appointments have disappointed anyone who sincerely hoped for genuine change in 2009," Mr. Casebolt added.